New Website Offers Old Aerial Views of Memphis — Or Anywhere Else, For That Matter

Image courtesy Historic Aerials

I know that the Lauderdale Mansion is a bit tumble-down, but have I actually been living under such a pile of rocks that until yesterday I was completely unaware of a rather amazing website called Historic Aerials?

In fact, I would have probably remained blissfully ignorant for years, until my pal Walt Drissel, who has been researching the history of the old Lakeland amusement park, told me he had been using Historic Aerials to track (pardon the pun) the route of the old Huff 'n' Puff Railroad.

As the name implies, this site offers old aerial photographs of just about any place in the country, taken over a period of years. I spent most of yesterday evening "flying" over parts of Memphis, seeing how neighborhoods, streets, and individual houses and buildings looked from the air at different periods of time.

Here's one example. Recognize it? Well, it's a 1956 view of the old, original Summer Drive-In, which was a little one-screen drive-in located on the northwest corner of Summer and White Station. After awhile, you learn to recognize certain visual clues on this website. That black diamond, for instance, is the shadow cast by the giant screen. You can clearly see the neat, curving rows where the cars would have parked, and even the little square building that housed the projection booth and snack bar.

Between the drive-in and Summer Avenue at the bottom, that half-circle of trees and little cottages alongside the road is the old Crescent Lake Tourist Court, which I have mentioned several times in this column.

The website is surprisingly easy to use. All you do is type in an address or intersection, wait a few seconds, and there you are.  A little "hand" tool lets you grab the image and move it around. Click on a row of dots at the bottom of the page (not shown here) and you can zoom in (though the closer you get, the grainer the view). And at the top, there's a "Layers" pulldown box, that lets you drop in street names and other helpful locators.

Sometimes it takes a bit long to load a certain view, but good grief, must you complain about everything?

And from a historian's viewpoint — and that would be people like me — the most amazing part is that little row of boxes with dates, in the top left corner. After you've located, say, the Summer Drive-In as it looked in 1956 (as shown here), just click on 1971, and it switches to  the exact same location in that year, and again in 2006, so you can easily see the dramatic changes that have taken place over the years. In the case of the old drive-in, it closed and eventually became a K-Mart. The Summer Twin opened later, down the street a bit.

The images you watch for free have the "Historic Images" copyright overlay on them. Once you find something you really like, you can purchase a higher-resolution of that location for anywhere from $5 to $20 (older images cost more).

The dates available depend on the location, for some reason. I guess some areas of town had more aerial views taken of them over the years than other areas. The location shown here, as you can see, just has views from three years, but other places in Memphis offer a range of as many as eight different dates (none of them earlier than 1956, I believe). The website also offers other handy features, but you get the picture, ha ha.

For lovers of history, this is as close to a time machine as it gets. Well, until Basil and I finish the one we are assembling in the Lauderdale garage.


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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and Inside Memphis Business. Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

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